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Prehosp Emerg Care. 2001 Apr-Jun;5(2):134-41.

Failed prehospital intubations: an analysis of emergency department courses and outcomes.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Christiana Care Health System, Newark, Delaware, USA.



To examine the reasons for failed prehospital endotracheal intubation (ETI) and to identify how the airway was subsequently managed in the emergency department (ED).


Data were collected from January to December 1998 for a county-wide paramedic system. Failed prehospital ETIs and perceived reasons for failure were identified. Subsequent ED airway management was reviewed.


During the study period there were 13,112 patient contacts resulting in ETI attempts on 592 patients, of whom 536 (90.5%) were successfully intubated. Of the 56 failed field intubations, 49 (87.5%) had ED charts available for review. Endotracheal intubation failure was associated with inadequate relaxation in 24 (49%), difficult anatomy in ten (20%), and obstruction in five (10%). Successful ETI was achieved in the ED in 42 cases (86%). Twenty cases (41%) were facilitated by rapid-sequence intubation (RSI) in the ED. For those with incomplete relaxation in the field, 13 of 24 (54%) were intubated in the ED using RSI. Factors associated with the use of ED RSI include attempted prehospital nasotracheal intubation or attempted prehospital midazolam-facilitated intubation (p < 0.001). The predicted need for RSI in this prehospital system is approximately 3.9%. In eight cases, three or more ETI attempts or the use of rescue airways was required in the ED. The predicted minimum incidence of "truly difficult" intubation in this system is approximately 0.8-1.6%.


Paramedic intubation failures result from a variety of factors. Less than half of field intubation failures were remedied in the ED by the use of neuromuscular-blocking agents. A similar number were intubated without the use of RSI. A fraction of failed field ETIs may have resulted from inadequate operator training or experience. A small percentage of field patients were "truly difficult" and required advanced resources in the ED to facilitate airway management. Medical directors should be cognizant of the numerous factors affecting intubation performance when designing and implementing approaches to difficult prehospital airways.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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